BEIJING (AP) – Prince William fed carrots to an elephant in southwestern China and raised the plight of its African counterparts being killed for their tusks in a speech Wednesday that called on China to do more to deter poaching.
He urged China, which has come in for criticism that its citizens’ demand for ivory has fueled poaching, to be a global leader in combating the illegal wildlife trade.
“Ultimately, ending demand for ivory is down to citizens across the world,” William told a conference on conservation in Yunnan province, wrapping up the first trip to China by a senior British royal in a generation.
“No tradition or fashion is worth the extinction of an entire species, and no criminal gang should be allowed to destroy any part of nature,” the prince said.
The second in line to the British throne spent the day in Yunnan, a tropical region bordering Myanmar and Laos that has been the focus of government efforts to stop poaching and reduce conflicts between villagers and elephants that eat their crops.
He commended China for contributing to the protection of wildlife in Africa and welcomed its announcement last week that it would tighten regulations governing the country’s legal trade in ivory. He added that there is “so much more to do,” including reducing demand for smuggled products.
He said that President Xi Jinping had told him of China’s intention to do more during their meeting Monday.
William arrived in China after visiting Japan. He delivered an invitation for Xi to visit Britain this year, met young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and met business entrepreneurs in Shanghai.
Earlier Wednesday, William visited an elephant sanctuary where he met Ran Ran, a 13-year-old female elephant who was discovered in 2005 with a leg wound caused by an iron clamp trap. Handed carrots by the animal’s keeper, William passed them to Ran Ran, who reached for more with her trunk even while her mouth was crammed full.
There are about 250 wild Asian elephants in China, all in Yunnan, according to the province’s forestry administration.
The prince, who is patron and president of British charities that campaign against the illegal trade in ivory, also met villagers in Xishuangbanna prefecture to hear how they are adapting to living in close proximity to wild elephants.
He also planted a tree in botanical gardens close to one that his grandfather, Prince Philip, planted when he visited with Queen Elizabeth II in 1986.
Last week, China banned ivory imports for one year in the hope that it would help reduce the demand for African tusks and protect wild elephants. There is still no ban on the ivory trade within the country, and conservationists say legal sales provide cover for a thriving black market.
China’s illicit trade in ivory began to explode in 2008, when Beijing was permitted to purchase 62 tons of ivory under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species. The purchase was presented as a way to preserve China’s traditional artisan ivory carving industry.
After legal pieces appeared in shops, it became a status symbol. Carved ivory has historically been highly prized in China, and its scarcity has turned it into an investment choice akin to gold and silver.
William was scheduled to fly back to Britain on Wednesday night.